Affiliated schools plan for more students - Catholic Courier

Affiliated schools plan for more students

Catholic schools in Monroe County that are affiliated with but not operated by the diocese say they are preparing to welcome more students based on the closing of 13 diocesan schools, including a junior high in Gates.

Bishop Kearney High School in Irondequoit and Aquinas Institute in Rochester will add seventh and eighth grades next fall, school officials confirmed Jan. 18. The other diocesan-affiliated Catholic high schools in Monroe County already operate middle schools.

Bishop Kearney announced Jan. 25 that it would set its junior-high tuition for 2008-09 at the same level the diocese has established for its Monroe County Catholic schools next year.

Meanwhile, Suzanne Johnston, president of Our Lady of Mercy Middle and High School in Brighton, said the school is contemplating adding a sixth grade to its middle school, which currently comprises grades 7 and 8. The school’s current total enrollment for grades 7 to 12 is 664 — the highest in 20 years, Johnston said.

The school’s board of directors will be making a final decision about the sixth grade on Friday, Jan. 25, Johnston said. Preliminary work, including consulting with the diocese, has been done, she noted.

“We contemplated, as many people did, that there was going to be a major change” at the diocesan level, Johnston said.

Our Lady of Mercy Middle School is located in a separate wing from the high school, and there is plenty of space in the wing for a sixth grade, Johnston said. She noted that the school has adequate faculty for the sixth grade, and that the middle and high school’s new principal, Terence Quinn, who starts full time Jan. 22, has a long history as a middle- and high-school educator.

The school, which is operated by the Sisters of Mercy, celebrates its 80th anniversary this year.

Another area school confirms that it is already ready to welcome any students displaced by the closings.

“We believe a majority of the closings will affect Catholic elementary schools and possibly middle schools,” Nazareth Schools President Sister Ann Collins, observed prior to Bishop Clark’s announcement on Jan. 18.

Sister Collins, whose schools offer pre-kindergarten through 12th grades, acknowledged that the decision to close diocesan schools is a tough one to make.

“It’s an extremely difficult position that the bishop is in,” she said. “We’re quite concerned, but change needs to happen to strengthen Catholic education, and we’re willing to accommodate students.”

The Nazareth Schools comprise Nazareth Hall Elementary and Preschool, a coeducational pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade school; Nazareth Hall Middle School, a coeducational school for grades 6 to 8; and Nazareth Academy, an all-female school for grades 9 to 12. Owned and operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph for 136 years, the schools have a total enrollment of about 600, Sister Collins said.

Fifty-three-year-old McQuaid Jesuit — which operates an all-male middle school for grades 7 and 8, and an all-male high school for grades 9 to 12 — will add financial aid to families in the middle-school program as part of an enrollment-management strategy it is developing. The school has been planning the additional aid for several months as part of its strategic plan, said McQuaid’s president, Bill Hobbs.

The school also is working to double its $10 million endowment to allow it to increase financial aid, according to a Jan. 17 letter from Hobbs to parents.

A fifth section also will be added to McQuaid’s seventh grade, which will allow it to accommodate a few more students who might otherwise have been placed on the school’s waiting list. The school’s maximum enrollment is capped at 875, and this year the middle and high school combined have 870 students. There are about 200 students in the middle school this year, Hobbs noted.

“Obviously, with the bishop’s announcement today, there will be middle-school students who are looking to go here, said Hobbs, who noted that his middle school is bursting at the seams. “We’re looking particularly as the Jesuit community decides what it wants to do with its residence space, and we will look at whether we are utilizing our current space to the best of our ability.”

Bishop Kearney President/CEO Donna Dedee said her school’s board decided Jan. 16 to add a seventh and eighth grade in the fall. Bishop Kearney — which had housed the diocese’s Bishop Hogan junior high until its closure in 2004 — had sought to add a seventh and eighth grade in 2004, but did not get diocesan approval for the change at that time. Nevertheless, a possible expansion has always remained in the backs of administrators’ minds, she said.

Dedee said the school now will be able to help families who are searching for a middle school.

“This is a tough situation for families who will be displaced,” she said.

Dedee said the school looked to partner with the diocese in a way that would provide stability and continuity for the students, and help ease their pain at their school’s closing.

Bishop Kearney has not yet set a tuition level for its new seventh and eighth grades, and hopes to do that sometime the week of Jan. 21. The level will be lower than the $6,900 high-school tuition rate, Dedee added.

“It will be extremely competitive and affordable for the market,” she said.

Bishop Kearney, a 46-year-old coeducational high school, has about 460 students in grades 9 to 12, and the school has the capacity to add 200 more students, Dedee said. Derech HaTorah, an Orthodox Jewish school which opened in Bishop Kearney in 2004, would not be displaced by the addition of a seventh and eighth grades, she noted.

Kearney’s new seventh and eighth grades would be placed in the south wing of the school, which has an adequate number of classrooms, said Julie Locey, principal. The school will be investing in technology, including interactive digital white boards for each room, although students will not each receive individual laptops as they do in ninth through 12th grades.

“We plan to attract the best and brightest junior high students,” Dedee remarked.

The school hopes to attract the best and brightest of faculty as well, she said, but the exact number of positions that will be added has not been determined.

Aquinas Institute will open a junior high school in September, President Michael Daley announced in a statement Jan. 18.

The school, which has been operating since 1902, intends to cap the enrollment of its junior high at 150 students. Its tuition, which will be announced the week of Jan. 21, will be competitive with that of other local Catholic junior-high schools, Daley’s statement said.

“We have had strong interest from families seeking an Aquinas education for their children beginning in the seventh grade,” Daley wrote. “We are confident that many families are going to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity and become a part of history at Aquinas.”

Joseph B. Knapp, director of public relations for Aquinas, noted that the school has room to welcome additional students. Its enrollment currently consists of 812 male and female students in grades 9 to 12.

“We’ve actually had a lot of expansion in the past five years, with a new fine-arts center and student union, and we will be completing in the spring a fitness-education center,” Knapp said.

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